Love Your Kids. Leave Them Alone: The Art of Radical Parenting. ~ Kristin S. Luce

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Kids in capes on the beach

I was driving home with my two daughters, then four and six years old, when my cell phone rang.

I glanced at it, knowing what I was in for if I picked it up. The moment I turned my attention away from them they would suddenly become boisterous and probably pick a fight with each other. Worse, I knew that there was no way to force them to be quiet while I was on the phone, especially in the car.

I resigned myself to missing the call when, on a lark, I turned and asked them straight up, “I really want to take this call. Will you be quiet for a few minutes so I can?” I asked them simply and sincerely with no particular hope or expectation. And then I heard something totally unexpected—an enthusiastic “Yes, Mommy!”

I paused for a fraction of a second, doubting the wisdom of my little experiment, and then hit the “answer” button. Cringing as I turned my attention to the caller, I waited for the tirade to erupt in the backseat at any moment.

But it didn’t come.

I finished the conversation with my now new client and hung up. I pulled over, put the car into “park,” and turned my full attention to my daughters.

“Thank you so much for being quiet during my call,” I said, astounded and touched, “That was really helpful to me.” They beamed back, obviously delighted to have done a good job.

Who were these people?

Four and six-year-olds aren’t capable of the discipline and self-restraint it takes to be courteous on demand—except perhaps when bribed or threatened, and then only for a short time.

Everything in my six years of motherhood had shown me that if I took my attention off of my kids for more than a moment they would burn Rome to get it back. These angels in the backseat left me baffled and, to be honest, a bit uncomfortable.

Something in what had just happened wasn’t, well, right.

This felt more like interacting with friends—mature people who do things for others out of a sense of kindness and a healthy sense of responsibility stemming from something like, dignity. This was completely unlike what I was used to. Children require consistent, external management in order to function in a socially acceptable way. Right?

What I saw was that I had, for the first time, actually treated my children with respect—real respect, not a falsely sweet, manipulative, or pedagogically-induced pretense of respect. I had asked them for their help sincerely, just as I might ask a friend—”Hey, I would love to take this call, does that work for you?” I had shown a genuine interest in their needs and the potential limits of their capabilities, and I was prepared to honor their response either way. They, in turn, had shown me the same respect—they had shown me the same respect!

Suddenly I found myself reevaluating my whole parenting world—maybe even my whole relational world. I was humbled to realize that although it had taken me thirty-some years to do this, they had returned the favor within seconds.

The implications of this happenstance were monumental. My mind began to race, finding all the ways that I had manipulated, cajoled, bribed, threatened and, yes, forced their cooperation in the past. I saw that I had been engaging in a series of overt and covert power struggles, fearing what others would think if my children did not “behave,” as well as imagining the uncouth people they would become if I didn’t control them.

Equally tragic, I could feel the constant tension I had been living under as I had tried to will them into shape.

How could I have been so mistaken? I heard the echoes of my own upbringing, “Children will try to get away with girl fieldanything,” and “They need to be guided in order to become good citizens.” The not-so-subtle implication being that children are inherently unruly, discourteous, manipulative and even bad.

Yet all that started to dissolve as I witnessed them responding immediately, open-heartedly—and to my mind, miraculously—to my unplanned moment of human decency toward them.

I had been parenting backwards. I had been using an old paradigm of control even as I professed to be more “enlightened.” The truth was that although I said many of the right words, tried hard and smiled a lot, I was often holding out bait for my children while carrying a stick behind my back. I still believed that sometimes bribes, threats and punishment were the only ways to keep peace and order. Up until then, I just hadn’t found a better way.

Marshall Rosenberg, renowned author and teacher of Non-Violent Communication, describes “the language of needs,” rather than of control. This includes both one’s own needs (“I really want to take this phone call”) and the needs of the other (“Will you be quiet so I can?”).

He suggests poignantly that we ask ourselves not just “What do I want the other person to do?” but also “What do I want their reasons to be for doing it?” Do I want the reason to be fear or guilt, or generosity and respect?

It is not hard to threaten, shame or bribe a child to get him to do what we want—or even to candy-coat it to make it sound like we are coming from kindness instead of coercion. They will usually obey—out of fear, guilt or greed—at least in the short run and at least until they get into their teens.

But when we ask ourselves what we want their reasons to be for agreeing, it becomes obvious that what we really want is for them to do it out of love, respect, and empowerment. In fact, we are outraged, disappointed, and hurt when our teenagers finally start showing enough self-respect to refuse to be manipulated and coerced. We may find out only then that what we wanted all along was their genuine connection and cooperation—one that comes only from the heart.

It’s actually kind of obvious. I like to be asked for things kindly and respectfully. I respond best to being treated as an equal. Why wouldn’t my kids be the same way?

The truth is that sometimes I simply didn’t have the patience to treat my children as full human beings. Sometimes I want things my way, and fast. In those times of high stress I haven’t always taken the time to develop a genuine relationship with them. Interestingly, even though I can’t always do it myself, I expect my children to be able to do this very thing.

So after witnessing their spontaneous expression of humanity, I began to experiment.

I decided to simply ask them to do things, rather than demanding. When I asked, I watched myself closely to see whether I was saying it genuinely, without veiled threats or an accusatory tone in my voice. I told myself that no matter what, I would not yell, cajole, threaten, shame or guilt them, even if they said ‘no.’ In my experiment, there would be absolutely no consequences.

Every counter argument clamored in my head: They will test you; They will always refuse what you ask; They will walk all over you. But I really wanted to know what would happen. Heck, I figured, I could always go back to “My way or the highway!” at least until they hit their teenage years. So I tried it out.

“Sweetheart, will you put your sweater away?’

“Hey Love, will you unload the dishwasher?”

“My head hurts and I’m tired. Would you be quiet while I rest?”

That was seven years ago, and I am still at it. I admit that I do occasionally resort to threats or demands, especially when I am stressed. I now also have lots of experience of how to apologize when I realized that I have “lost it.” I almost never resort to punishment.

Photo Credit: May Mantel
Photo Credit: May Mantel

Last week I said to my 10-year old, “It’s really important to me that the house be clean before the guests come. Will you help me?” She replied, “In a minute, Mama, I just want to finish something.” After a few minutes she came in and started unloading the dishwasher. We chatted while I cleaned the counters.

When she was done I asked her if she would sweep the kitchen floor and she said “I’m sorry, Mama. I’m done now. I’m really tired of doing this.”

“OK, thanks for your help,” I responded, loving her honesty, kindness and simple empowerment. I watched her skip off happy as a clam.

So, you may ask, what happens when you actually do need your kids to do something? What if it is not optional, or if it’s a matter of safety?

Well, first we need to acknowledge that about 95% of what seems to be imperative is actually optional. A sweater on the floor, going to bed when I think its time, and brushing teeth are, in fact, optional.

I talk to my kids about brushing their teeth the way I might talk to a foreign exchange student about an unfamiliar American custom. I lay out the merits and dangers of failing to brush one’s teeth. It’s more like reading them something from Wikipedia than giving them a coercive lecture.

They also see me brushing my teeth twice a day and I notice that they do in fact brush their teeth without my pleading, threatening or punishing. Worst case scenario: they get a cavity and find out for themselves whether or not they want to brush their teeth from their own hard-won experience.

What is kinder—advising my kids honestly and letting them make their own decisions (which might mean they get cavities), or being in a power-struggle every morning and night, shaming, threatening and punishing them (and sometimes they still get cavities)?

In my experience they are more likely to take my advice when they know that the consequences are truly their own.

A necessary component in treating kids with genuine respect is treating oneself with the same respect. I recently told my youngest daughter that if she doesn’t brush and gets a cavity then she is responsible for the $10 co-pay. No blame or shame, I am just not willing to over-function and deprive her of living with her own choices.

More importantly, I am making sure that I don’t become resentful toward her. This way, I can love and support her whether she brushes or not. I have nothing to lose, whereas she has not only $10 bucks but also the pain and fear around getting a cavity filled. Her motivation kicked in fast, and if it hadn’t, well they are her teeth, her pain, her money, and her life.

Just imagine how this might serve her as she contemplates choices with higher stakes—though, importantly, that was not my motivation. I was simply being honest about what I would support and what I would not support for my own sake.

So what happens when it gets more serious? A while ago my daughter “found” two $20 bills just after my friend told me that he had left the $40 he owed on my dining room table, though I never saw it. I felt pretty sure that my daughter was lying and had taken the money. I stewed, feeling angry and betrayed—how could she lie to me? How could I let her get away with it? Yet I hated the idea, however remote, of falsely accusing her. I struggled with myself not to just “lay down the law,” accuse her and demand the money back.

Finally I told her the simple truth: I felt pretty sure that she had stolen the money and lied to me, and also that I could be wrong. Without solid evidence I wasn’t going to ask her to give me the money back.

Then I talked to her about times when I myself had lied and stolen in my life. This wasn’t a covert “instructional” story to get her to confess—but rather I realized that although I couldn’t control her, I could control me.

Actually, when I looked at it, losing $40 was far less than what I had made off with in my life and suddenly I didn’t feel so righteous and “robbed.” I also wanted to confess to my daughter exactly how I had rationalized stealing and what it had cost me: guilt, hiding, a sense that I was “bad.” I genuinely felt sick about it. Mostly, I wanted her to know that if she had in fact stolen the money it didn’t mean in my book that she was a bad person. I, and everyone I have ever known, had done something similar, or worse.

Based on how most of us were raised, we might think that this condones stealing and lying. We might even think that this gives her carte blanche to do whatever the heck she wants and that there will be no consequences.

But it seems to me that had I accused or shamed her it would likely have created the very monster I feared her becoming; that is, when we think we are bad we actually tend to lie, steal and hide more—and we certainly don’t trust and confide in the person who shames us.

It took a few months before she admitted it (I had forgotten all about it by then). She was crying when she confessed, and obviously wanted me to know the truth. She paid me back, and even gave me some interest. Now she goes out of her way to pay me back as soon as possible whenever she owes me something and without reminder.

Recently she confided that she usually takes the bigger “half” when splitting something with her sister, and now I notice that she sometimes offers her sister the “big” half, or even lets her choose first.

Getting my $40 back: good. Watching my daughter find her integrity: priceless.

Taking on this experiment with my children has been what I would call a “slow fix” as opposed to a quick one. Honestly, I think if I had been able to stick with it more diligently it would have been a lot more effective, especially given how fast I watched them be so helpful to me in the car that morning when I wanted to take the phone call. But, old habits die hard. My learning curve has turned out to be a lot longer than theirs.

So, finally, what if there is a genuine safety issue?  Doesn’t that justify whatever it takes, even if that means threats or demands?

I can tell you that I won’t drive the car if my child’s seatbelt isn’t on. I won’t do anything that I think will hurt them. I wouldn’t take my daughter to a friend’s house who I suspected of using drugs, for example.

If my child wanted a tattoo, I wouldn’t sign for it. No blame or outrage, I just won’t participate in something that I think she may regret. And if she gets a tattoo when she is of age, or even behind my back before then, I will be the first one to ooh and ahhh over it. It’s her life.

So far, no one wants a tattoo. Honestly, they have no one to rebel against and what’s left is for them to contemplate things for themselves.

The truth is that if our children decide to smoke, do drugs, have sex or run away there isn’t much we can do about Photo: Teresa Delcambre on This is not an abdication of responsibility but rather a reporting of the facts.

My girls and I have had many conversations about the smoking, drugs and sex and they are informed. So far, they don’t seem interested. In such cases where I don’t actually have control all I can fall back on is the love and respect that they have for me and for themselves.

If they choose to smoke and get lung cancer in their 40’s, I will be at their bed-side. It sounds terrible, but really, would threatening and trying to control them make them any less likely to try it? I think it would probably be the opposite, except that they would hide it better and further distance themselves from the one person who loves them most in the world.

So here is my secret: there is magic in treating children with respect. A genuine relationship forms and then the power-struggles, lies, and acting out all but stop. My kids help me out, and I help them out. We get to say, “no” to each other when that’s what’s honest for us, knowing that we still love each other and no one is going to get hurt, punished or shamed.

When I am upset they can see it on my face and in my words, but they don’t have to fear that I am going to take it out on them. In fact, they often stroke my arm and say, “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day, Mama,” and go back to what they were doing. Sometimes they ask if there’s anything they can do to help.

Today my girls are 12 and 14, and they are nobody’s fool. My younger daughter came in while I was writing this, asking for something. I said to her, “Hey Sweetie, I am really excited about what I’m writing and I need my whole attention to do it. Will you not interrupt me unless it’s super important?”

She said, “OK, Mama. I’m sorry I interrupted.” That was an hour ago and she hasn’t asked me anything since.

The magic bullet? Treating my children the way that I would want to be treated. That, and acting like an adult myself (no more demanding instant gratification from a 5-year-old). The natural way for children is to want our love and respect, and to become like us. When I treat myself well and treat them well, they can’t help but to treat themselves and the people around them well also. At least, that’s how it is unfolding for us so far.

Our way of being with each other now is like glass: smooth, easy and clear, and it started from the simple and revolutionary act of treating my children like whole people. By letting go of control of getting what I want in the moment I find all the ease, joy and help that I wanted in the first place. And then basking in the love I feel for—and receive from—my children, is just gravy.


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Editor: Dana Gornall

Photo Credit: Pixoto/Pixabay


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64 Responses to “Love Your Kids. Leave Them Alone: The Art of Radical Parenting. ~ Kristin S. Luce”

  1. Hilary says:

    Oh my gosh what a REVOLUTION. I have been looking for another way and this is IT. Thank you thank you thank you!!!

  2. Odette says:

    Kristin – thank you, I have experienced the mutually respectful relationship between my daughters and I BUT only when I've put my stress & controlling beliefs aside. Having read your profound work I have been inspired to continue moving away from the traditional parenting concepts. I will be sharing your work!

  3. Sarah says:

    Kristin strikes again with humble open clarity. Parenting with deep integrity, my hearts desire.

  4. Barbara Kitzis says:

    Kristin….. I read Your story story and as remarkable as it is, the best part as far as I can see, is that I know it is not fiction…. I adore your loving heart and while I sit here crying my eyes out I am pleased to know that you have taken the time to do what you feel is best for them. Being reasonable and offering them the same loving consideration you would any friend or adult family member ..People that witness a parent using love and treating their children with respect will sometimes see that as a weakness rather than a brave step into the Light….Yes, and sometimes we don't even see the results of our efforts/caring until many years later….Love comes in many shapes and sizes and sometimes it shows up as an unexpected GIFT that we can cherish forever….Love Barb….

  5. Edwin says:

    Poetry! Both in the Parenting and in the article itself.

  6. Carolyn says:

    Fabulous, Kristin!

  7. Leah says:

    That is exactly how we raised our daughter, now 24. We had no problems with her at all growing up. We breezed through pre teens and teen years, until…..21-22 came along. She thought all she had to do was still ask politely for things and we should still be giving it to her. In her mind that was all it took. Mom I need a couple of thousand dollars. Mom, I do not really feel like finishing school and I need you to respect that. Mom, I do not feel like working and you are my Mom and you need to take care of me. So my experiment worked up until a certain point and now I have a big old mess on my hands. A young lady who believes just because she wants and ask's for something she should still get it. Now I'm at a terrible point were I've asked her to leave our home (politely) and she hates me and my heart is breaking. So much for my degree in psychology.

    • KristinSLuce says:

      For me loving my kids and leaving them alone doesn't mean giving them whatever they want. For example, and this will sound terrible, my kids have given me earrings and other gifts. I thank them and love them, but if it's not right for me, I don't wear them, like at all, ever. As I said in the article, I told my daughter that if she didn't brush and got a cavity, she was responsible for the co-pay. If my adult daughter asked for a couple of thousand dollars and it didn't feel right to give it to her, the answer would be a loving "no." She would not be surprised, because she's heard a lot of "no's" from me already!

      "I don't feel like finishing school and I need you to respect that" seems like a reasonable and honest request to me. So what if she doesn't finish school? It's her life. Letting your child "fail" is part of this. I don't want people to confuse respecting children with being permissive and overstepping your own boundaries. And it's never too late to start holding your own.

      And I hear your heartbreak. She may need time to adjust to a loving parent who is also saying "no" right now.

      • Wanderingi says:

        I couldn't agree with you more, KristinSLuce. When my son was in his 20's or 30's I asked him what he thought prevented him from succumbing to the drug culture, which had taken many of his friends. His answer was that he "thought it would kill me if anything that bad happened to him."
        I had, to the best of my ability, treated him the way you describe in your beautiful article. Although, I wasn't able to put it into words the way you have. I have always laughingly said we had a terrible "weekend" while he went through his teen transition. Thanks for the memory of those times we spent together. They were full of "million dollar gifts" such as "Watching my [son] find [his] integrity: priceless."

  8. Rinka says:

    I am giving lectures on Positive Psychology at the Department of Child Rearing Psychology at the university and will have the students read your piece! great!

  9. Danielle says:

    Thanks for sharing this Kristen. I teach 4th, 5th, and 6th graders at a local Montessori School in Boulder and decided to share it with my parent body.

    I appreciate all of your wisdom!

    • Barbara Kitzis says:

      I do like that you will be sharing this with parents….we all can use this type of encouragement……I am the proud mom to three amazing adult children and six adult grandchildren and my husband and I have had to figure most of this out by ourselves……Parenting and Politics seem to be much in their Shadow these days…….

  10. Olivia says:

    I am a mother of a 2year old and just starting to feel my manipulation of this beautiful being so I can get my needs met. Thank you for this article so I can find a kinder gentler way….

  11. Tenee says:

    Indeed it does work.. My “children” are 33 and 38…and it has been a joy and remains so. It is enlightening to discuss what they they think are/were the biggest parenting mistakes and the things they will replicate with their children/ friends/iloves. We have done this since they were small…such amazing learnings are the gift of children.

  12. karen says:

    What a beautiful post. I wish I’d figured this out when my son was little, but I have gotten there, eventually. And I agree that life is smooth (glassy is such a nice image) and easy with a kid that is used to being respected. Mine just turned 18 and we’ve avoided the things I thought were a natural part of living with a teenager. Giving up trying to control him was the best thing I could have done for our whole family. He’s thoughtful and considerate and doesn’t go crazy when he’s out with his friends (or, he doesn’t pick friends that party a lot).

    I’ve come to the conclusion that parenting ought to basically be easygoing, not something that stretches us so thin that we aren’t enjoying our lives. I’m happy for the kids of your readers.

  13. nicolasconnault says:

    How do we silence the voices in our culture that shriek so loud, and for so long, that children DO NOT deserve the same respect we require of them? We have turned off our TV years ago and it has helped us. I'm sharing your article, as it reflects my own experiences and values extremely well.

    Can we do more?

    • KristinSLuce says:

      I haven't found a way to silence a culture that says children do not deserve the same respect as adults. What I have found is that doing it myself gives them the internal resources to work with that when they encounter it. Because I am "their Mom" I have a lot of power in their world for a while, and when I give that power back to them, they seem to stay empowered even when they are encountering more conventional responses.

      I don't know if there is more we can do, and I love the question. My sense is that raising children with respect may be the fastest way to changing the culture, because pretty soon they will be the culture.

      Thank you for your beautiful and thoughtful post!

  14. maria says:

    Thank you for the article – and I have appreciated the like-minded posts. I teach and my style is to be easy-going. I want my students to feel safe and open – it's ok if they are noisy as long as they are productive. My feeling: open heart – open mind to learning. I have to share a workspace with a colleague that demands, so sweetly, for silence and compliance. Except on Fridays when they get snacks and $$ rewards for behavior to spend on junk in her "store". The passive-aggressive controlling hurts my spirit as I have to worry that my group's enthusiasm is a "distraction". I am so grateful for your articulation and will keep all of your words with me.

  15. guest says:

    I think this is a lovely article and we mostly have this going on at home with our young son. But sometimes in life, you do just have to get out the door. You do just have to do things you may not want to do. You have to bend to others. Especially in the real world as an adult, when you have a job, relationship, responsibilities, etc. At my workplace we have gone through firing three 20-25 year apprentices this year exactly because they have this kind of attitude like "I don't really feel like it, so I don't have to right now". Or moving from relationship to relationship as adults because 'it just not working for me'. How do we balance the two and foster ethics that will enable them to keep a job or maintain a relatioship?

    • KristinSLuce says:

      It comes down to being fully responsible for our lives and choices and treating our kids the same way. When I wanted the house to be clean before we went out to get a Christmas tree one year, and my kids didn't want to help clean, that was fine—we just didn't get a tree that day (and they really wanted to get a tree). I didn't need punishment or blame, I just needed to be aware enough of what did and did not work for me and act on it.

      When we need to get out the door, as you mention, I have learned (first) to be organized myself and make sure I have time left to help them if they need it. Then I often ask my daughter, "how can I help you?" or, knowing her pretty well, I might just say "I can carry that for you," or "I made your lunch already," (they always make their own lunches). This isn't said with exasperation, but in the spirit of love and cooperation. I'm the one who wants to get out the door so they are kind of doing me a favor actually, and I treat them that way. My daughters are so grateful when I make their lunch, carry their things, etc. They don't assume it at all. And, when my oldest got old enough, I let her know that I would leave her if she wasn't in the car by a certain time. Again, no blame, I just want to keep my commitments.

      If they are younger and really won't cooperate, think of it like a flat tire. Sometimes things happen and there is just nothing you can do about it. But mostly, in my experience, they want to love and be loved, they want to help. They follow us and fall into the rhythm of how we behave when they're young. If they are resisting it's either because they are physically or emotionally in distress (in which case I want to help them), or they are rebelling against my demands (in which case I want to help them AND take a look at myself).

      So the "balance" for me is not a balance actually. It's a new way of being. They have, for example, years of experience of making their own lunches in which I didn't force or threaten or blame—I just let them make their own lunches or go hungry. My job, as I saw it, was to make sure that they had food that was nutritious and that they would eat, and also that they knew where it was and/or how to make it. Now, if I make lunch for them they are so grateful, because it's a genuine act of kindness and it's also pretty unusual. They are the opposite of entitled. And none of it requires forcing.

      The thing is that we believe that we need either to force or coerce our children, or else let them do anything they want. There is a huge middle ground, and in that middle ground is where we get to stay connected to our kids, love them, and not do anything that's not right for us, including making them lunch.

      I once told my daughter "no" when she asked for breakfast on her birthday because I experienced her as being demanding and entitled. As much as I wanted to dote on her for her birthday, it wasn't honest for me when she was acting demanding. Honestly, I didn't see that it would server her either; she seemed miserable as she was demanding. She wound up crying and having a "meltdown" over it, and I loved her. I was willing to let her have the "worst birthday ever" rather than not respect myself. What I can tell you is that right now they are some of the most empowered, generous, hard working people I know (and their teachers say the same thing). Very much the opposite of the "I just don't feel like it" mentality.

      Thanks for you post! There's a whole book in me that I am already writing, and this conversation is so helpful! I hope it's helpful to you as well.

  16. Kelly says:

    What if our family doesn't have dental insurance and a cavity would be really hard on us financially? What if that $40 was grocery money?

    I do agree that children deserve respect. I humbly suggest to you that you are speaking from a place of economic privilege. What might this paradigm look like for a family under much larger economic stress? Doable?

    • Kristen says:

      Those are good questions and I'm also interested in what the author has to say.

    • KristinSLuce says:

      Actually I was a single mom living in a trailer without a reliable income when these incidents happened. In my case, I actually discovered more respect for my children under economic stress.

      The basic premise is the same however: How do I love, see, and respect my children? Our fear can run us (how will I pay for it if they get a cavity?) but as I say in the article, what if they brush and get a cavity anyway? What if my friend hadn't paid me back, or what if someone else had stolen it and I couldn't get it back? Without blame or control, I would deal with it, whatever that means.

      What I'm saying is that, for me, resorting to aggression (violence, shaming, punishing, etc) just stopped being an option. So even if that $40 is grocery money, I want to maintain the relationship with myself and my kids. Why do I want that grocery money anyway? To buy my kids food, because I love and care about them. That is primary. And it could come down to, "We are going to the food shelf because I don't have money for food." Or even "We don't have money for food and I love you and am doing everything I can," —not as a shaming technique, but as the reality of what happens if I don't have the $40 I was going to use for food.

      Families have been through holocausts and become refugees, as well as facing poverty and uncertainty as you ask about here. For me that gives me more reason to love and respect my kids. My goodness, we are going through hell together, how can I love you more? And if they steal from my wallet at that time, I understand. I might be tempted to do the same myself in that moment.

      For a specific, if I didn't have dental insurance for my kids and my little one didn't want to brush, I might tell her, "if you don't brush you'll probably get a cavity and then it will hurt and hurt and hurt, and I don't want you to hurt. How bout we brush so you don't have to hurt?" I might even tell her that 10 times a day, with love and as if its the first time I've ever said it, so she doesn't have to hurt. She's little and she loves me, she trusts me. When I keep telling her (with love, not manipulation or anger) that I want her to not hurt, she'll probably listen. I have actually done that in a similar circumstance (regarding sunscreen).

      And for me, forcing her would be more violent than taking that risk. I think the main thing is that we tend to react to fear of an imagined future and that's how we lose track of our relationship with our kids. In fact, when I treated my kids this way, they did brush and they did pay me back. So there wasn't a problem.

      My point is that not moving toward control or aggression may give us what we wanted anyway, and maintain the connection we always wanted. If not, my boundaries are clear, e.g. if my child kept taking money I would lock it up and let her know that I knew what she was doing it. No blame, just love and honesty. What I notice is that it doesn't come to this when we are kind, loving, respectful, open. It's the fear of what might happen that drives us to start pushing them.

      We wind up doing violence to our children for fear of violence coming to our children (getting a cavity we can't afford to fill, or not having grocery money). I'm not saying that these are not vitally important things. I'm saying that doing violence to the very ones we are trying to care for, love and protect, is backwards. Love them first, and risk losing a tooth or going hungry for a while. I'm serious. I would risk that to love my kids. So far, it never come to that. Logically, I see that it never does—and I'm willing.

  17. Jasmin says:

    Fantastic article- I have a little miss 2 & 3/4 and feeling like I don't have the genuine relationship I had dreamed of. Your share will help get us back on track, if I can only keep this wisdom at the forefront of my tired and very stressed mind. Thank you!

  18. James says:

    Perhaps some people have missed the Author's main point here. Some maybe struggle with the whole interaction involved between teaching and love in the parenting role. The two are not opposites nor should they be seen, viewed or actively portrayed as such.
    Just as we have been given and automatically receive the greatest gift of love, a free too allowing a child/person to choose what they want to do is them being respected and regarded highly enough that it proves our love for them. The ability to choose our friends, what we eat, where live, how we relate to other people etc, is something most of us have influence and/or control over however it is probably fair to say most of us can perhaps link or associate other people with these experiences in some way.

    Some of us will instantly associate some of these areas in our lives with other people we feel may be responsible for affecting us in some way and if you really think about it I doubt anyone could 100% confirm they have not been influenced or effected in some way by other people in their lives, even if they are super independent. With this in mind, if a parent demonstrates to a child how they should act etc and ensures the child understands the merit and/or virtue in why those things are best that way, one should realise that the child is going to respond to this information in an intelligent manner because they too have a free will/choice. Information displayed through/via genuine love (respect is a key part of this) is bound to make an impression and be remembered accepted and revered a lot more than information given via control (this is shown in the Author's example).

    It isn't a matter of letting a child do whatever they like but rather believing in what you have shown them about how to live, react, and respond as a loving parent. Because the parent has done this they can then rest back in respect for them and their will and let the child reward them by showing them what they have learnt. There is a balance, between setting rules, explaining why a particular rule/value exists and acknowledging the success of your parenting/communication by allowing them to make their own choice. It obviously doesn't always work this way but you can bet when a child decides to go against what you have shown them and suffers in some way, the lesson will be learnt more memorably as it was something they chose to do, not only that but it would also confirm the credibility and accuracy of your teachings, advice to them.

    Even years after a child becomes an adult and becomes more accountable for their actions there can be acknowledgement/reward for good parenting (love) , years down the track. Learn to differentiate between no/little parenting (letting them do whatever they what with no guidance etc,) and restricting your view of their intelligence by over-parenting (totally controlling and dominating everything they do etc,).

  19. Debbie Lynn says:

    The beauty in this is: surrender. I am a parent of 3. Tested to the MAX ! They are grown now but as I remember, whenever this tactic [basic respect] was implemented, instead of the 'I am parent hear me roar/ego control garbage' – Do as I say…etc. My children responded, and they responded happily. When there is pride involved, accountability and praise for minor tasks, they (children) flourish. There is a lot to be said for boundaries, yet the simple act of letting children be children without fear of what will the neighbors think, is a pay-off for all. They are young, but they are Human. How else do they get their values? Think about it…

  20. Tegan says:

    My parents raised me this way and not only was I the one taking care of my inebriated friends who felt the need to rebel in our teens, but I’ve also had the pleasure of taking care of a 4 and 5 year old for 12 months as their nanny. No one took the time to get to know these beautiful kids, their parents too stressed and busy. The 5yr old boy was the troublemaker of his class and dreaded by his teachers. I treated him the way my parents treated me, as a person, with respect. I was the only person he consistently behaved around and we developed a relationship of respect and trust. I helped him navigate his relationship with his younger sister so that they began to play nicely together and helped each other instead of constantly fighting. Their parents and teachers were dumbfounded. I’ll never forget the experience and how much they taught me over that time, and how caring they were towards me. I just hope their parents learnt they are not inherent monsters but beautiful souls needing guidance, not orders.

  21. Beautiful, profound, enlightening. Thank you!

  22. Fyona says:

    One of the most beautiful, honest and vulnerable pieces of writing I have ever experienced – thank you x

  23. Jack says:

    Thank you so much for writing this.

  24. Ivanna Rebecca says:

    I'm 25 and I loved reading this article. I felt like you were describing my childhood. And this wasn't something I had consciously ever recognized before…it was just the way things were in my family. I certainly hope I can raise my future children like you and my mother!

  25. Kristen says:

    This article speaks to my soul. I love it! I have six-year-old twins and this is really how I've tried to parent them. I've just never seen it explained in such a sensible way before. Sometimes I feel funny when I'm around other parents who are more controlling, because I start to feel like maybe I'm a pushover and not strict enough… but you know what? My kids are the best-behaved of any other kids this age I've been around so I either won the young child lottery or my style is working! Thanks for writing this!

  26. Sally says:

    Thank you for writing this, and so beautifully. We came to the same realization you did and parented our now 27 year old son and 24 year old daughter this way…the love and respect we have for each other is priceless!

    I've been wanting to do some writing around it but you've nailed it here. It can't be written or talked about too often as the culture we live in is steeped in the unexamined assumptions of domination and control and beliefs that people are inherently lazy and young people will grow up to be good for nothings or criminals if you don't punish them. I remember when our kids were in their teens and our great relationship continued while all we heard from others was about the terrible time they were having with their teenagers and how they had hit that awful rebellious stage. Our first thought was always, well, what are you giving them to rebel against? People thought we just had naturally easy kids!

    I see that same lack of respect for young people operating in our school systems and have done some writing around that. I think reforms have all been looking in the wrong places…respect and self-direction would work wonders.

    Again, thank you and keep spreading the word!

  27. KristinSLuce says:

    Thank you, Sally! So far I'm finding the same with my teen and pre-teen, that is that the love and respect continues. I am also passionate about schooling that comes from this same level of genuine respect. My kids went to a Sudbury School, which is one of the only ones I saw really doing that, though unfortunately they are small schools because the cultural understanding has not caught up to reality.

    What you say about reforms looking in the wrong places is something I couldn't agree with more! I feel heartened to have you and so many others as a community of kindness, and I'm wanting more of that for our kids and for the world.

    • Sally says:

      Your kids went to a Sudbury School! Jealous! I'm in Los Angeles and there wasn't one around (and still isn't, although it's looking like there will be one south of us in the near future) when we took our son out of school in 8th grade and our daughter later decided to leave school after 9th grade. They ended up unschooling but I'm sure would have enjoyed a Sudbury School had it been around. We learned so much in those years about trust; we as a culture have a lot of learning yet to do around that.

      I would love to see Sudbury type schools available as a public option, something that seems impossible right now because of the focus on top down instruction and testing…there would really have to be a transformational shift in values and assumptions for it to happen. When I read pieces like yours, I'm more hopeful!

      • KristinSLuce says:

        I feel great love and hope hearing this. Sometimes, I realize, I feel almost alone in it. Yes, the Sudbury education has been beyond words in terms of keeping kids intact. It's like un-schooling in community. Thank you for your words, experience and encouragement!

  28. Jan says:

    I am a social worker and run an in home family therapy program for children at risk and their families. A child's attitude problems are never just their own, they are always found in the context of the relationship they have with their parents/caregivers. Some children are highly sensitive and respond to things in a heightened way due to their constitutional make up. This is usually the child who becomes "the problem". Invariably, the child has at least one caregiver who is not attuned to their needs. It is my belief that it's the parent's job to attune to their child and work with the child at an emotional level to be a source of comfort and support, as well as structure, and not the child's job to attune to the parent and their needs. The families with the most problems are the ones that believe it's the child's job to meet the parent's needs. I think you captured very eloquently the spirit of parenting that actually grows a child and stabilizes a family. When a parent loses their relationship with their child, to win compliance, even if they win the war, they have lost the battle. Please write that book quickly! I know it would be one I would use with the families we serve.

  29. Jen says:

    This was an amazing article and I truly believe in the importance of the main idea. But I'm having a REALLY hard time applying the concept with my toddler (2 1/2) and baby (13 mo). At times, even if I am treating them as I would like to be treated, they can't always just do whatever they want to do. If I ask my toddler "Can you please stop kicking the cat" "Can you please stop dumping your water all over the floor" "Can you please put some clothes on so we can go outside" "Can you please not drag the chair across the floor because your sister is sleeping and it will wake her up"…I could go on and on. Asking only goes so far at this age. And often when I go over to her to get her to stop whatever it is, a meltdown occurs. Am I missing something? Can this really work for toddlers?? I need many super practical tips. I was not raised this way and it does not come naturally.

  30. KristinSLuce says:

    Thanks for your question, Jen. Children are very different and different ages and while all children respond better to being respected, in my experience, how that looks is very different depending on the level of their needs and abilities. I actually find it disrespectful to frame something as a question when it's actually a demand that will be backed up if they don't comply. So, for example, asking your child to put on clothes so you can go outside could be a genuine request, in which case you ask and if he doesn't comply then you don't go outside. Or, it could be an instance where if he doesn't dress himself, you will dress him and take him out anyway. In that case it may work better to say "Let's get your clothes on, it's time to go outside!" and if he refuses, telling him that he can do it or you can do it for him. Obviously distraction and making it fun or a game (timing him in a playful way, etc) is often kind and respectful to a younger child as well. And if he doesn't comply you may put his clothes on him for him and he may cry and scream and kick. The difference here is that we as parents don't have to do it with a sense that our child is being "bad," or misbehaving. I see it as my job to make it as kind and gentle as possible and I am aware that how he responds is not something that I have control over. If he is kicking and screaming, I might very kindly ask it he would rather do it himself and if so, ask how I could help him.

    One thing that is critical in responding appropriately to different ages is to notice how much power they are essentially giving you. An infant "gives" you almost total control. You can pick them up and cary them from place to place, burp them, put their clothes on, etc and they accept this because physically and intellectually they have no choice. They may cry of course and then we can do everything we can to comfort them, but we still pick them up and move them around because they are not capable of independent locomotion. Physically moving an older child however may be very disrespectful to them, and something we might only do if they were in danger.

    With the spilling of water I might give him only a sippy cup with a lid so that he can't easily spill it. I would let him know that when he can drink without spilling he can have a cup without a lid. If he takes the lid off and dumps it anyway, I would likely take it away, lovingly, and stop giving him a cup at all. He could drink by asking me to hand him his cup, take his sips, and then I would put the cup on the other side of me again. So, this is about taking care of business with an attitude of respecting my child and also respecting me. The first thing, probably, is to start noticing when you have a request (in which case you can ask even a three year old and whatever they respond is fine) and when you have a demand (in which case don't ask, just let them know what their options are and what you will do to make sure it happens–again not punishment, but "making it so" as kindly as you can. For example, "Hey Sweetie, if you pour the water on the floor I'm going to take your cup away." Then if he pours the water on the floor you take the cup away and go back to having a wonderful meal together. If he screams then you get to love your beautiful child who is experiencing disappointment (and yes, I sometimes put my fingers in my ears if the noise is too loud for me).

    One last thing is that I would strongly advise that you protect your cat. I advocate for respecting every being including pets, and I would also not want my child growing up harming anyone or seeing that I allow anyone in my house to be hurt. You could keep them apart if that's feasible until he can show that he is gentle with the cat, or else, if necessary, you could actually find the cat a new home. This may sound extreme but I would do that over letting the cat be hurt or punishing my child (hurting him).

    There is so much more I could say, but I'll stop here for now. Thank you again for your comments and question!

    • Jen says:

      Thank you so much for your very thorough and helpful reply!! I KNOW I want to parent this way – it's just figuring out the HOW, which sometimes seems like common sense, but other times, especially in the heat of things, can seem confusing. I often get stuck on how my child reacts, for example, if she reacts badly to something I did or said, then perhaps I didn't word myself correctly. I need to focus on if I am respecting her or not, and like you said, realize I have no control over how she reacts.

      Thank you again. Any chance you will have another blog on this or even a book in the future?

      • KristinSLuce says:

        Actually I am working on a book now. Thank you so much for your interest and questions, it helps me hugely to know what parents are working with and what questions they have! You can sign up on my newsletter at (upper right hand corner to sign up for the newsletter) and I will keep you updated with the book and articles and such. Again, a deep "Thank you."

  31. CB says:

    This artical was very refreshing. It was eye opening to see how much we do want “instant gratification” from our children.
    It is so hard sometime to resist getting cought up in the emotion of our children. I have a 1 1/2 year old and from birth I have spoken to her like an adult. She has amazing comprehension.
    The place where I struggle are naps… How do you ask/request a toddler to nap? Knowing that if they refuse its going to take a toll on the whole house hold. It doesn’t happen at every nap, and sometime we end up skipping the nap and getting an earlier bedtime. But the struggle being when you know they need the nap and they are being misurable and fighting every step of the way, it’s madding.
    I tell her “it’s time to rest.” Or ” it’s nap time, mommy needs a break and baby needs to rest. I need you to rest please.”
    I rub her back for a set time and I tell her ” I’ll rub your back till the music stops then it’s time to rest and I’m going to go.” And that works fine but sometimes after I leave her, she screams so hard it makes her voice scratchy, I haven’t been able to let her scream till she stops, I feel like if I do that I’m not respecting the fact she is asking me to come to her in the only way she knows. When I do come back I say ” I know it’s hard to nap, but it’s time to rest, I hear your frustrated but I need you to rest.” And then I leave her again. I could wright a page on the various ways a paitcular nap may go, what I’d like to know is, when you know your child needs something and they refuse to do it and it effects you and everyone around them and the natural consequence doesn’t reach them, how would you proceed?

    I know nap/sleep is a hot topic to begin with and to each there own, I’m just wondering how to apply this type of parenting in this situation of nap refusal.

    • KristinSLuce says:

      Thanks for your question, CB. I think it's always about first loving and respecting your child (which is sounds like you are already doing) and secondly doing the best you can (which it also sounds like you are doing). The truth is that you cannot make anyone sleep– it's simply not possible. Personally I agree with you about not letting her scream until her voice is scratchy; to me, as you say, that is not respecting her needs and communications.

      So what other options do you have? We know she's not being "bad," and we know that when she doesn't nap she gets miserable and it affects others in the house. What can we think of together that will help me her needs (short term, meaning not being left alone screaming at nap time; and long term, meaning her not being miserable and over-tired later) as well as your and your family's needs?

      Here are some ideas that I tried. I carried my daughter on my back while I worked around the house with music on until she fell asleep (added benefit of getting a lot of exercise); took her out for a walk in the stroller at nap time and let her sleep in the stroller once we got home; lay down with her and stayed with her until she fell asleep (and I sometimes got a nap myself); when she was a little older I promised her a movie when she woke up (which she LOVED)—I then got a break for her whole nap and another hour or so while she watched a movie; got her songs or books-on-tape to listen to while she fell asleep. Some other ideas that come to mind are massaging her and/or singing to her; letting her sleep on the couch near you; giving up on naps and getting her to bed early.

      Each family is different and each child is different, so those are just ideas that may or may not work for you. I also found that not waking my child up from sleep as much as possible (in the mornings or at nap time) seemed to work for us. It goes against the advice to get them on a schedule, but I trusted my children's natural way and she seemed to regulate her own sleep better that way.

      Lastly, recognize that it may just be hard for a while and it will pass. I found that dedicating myself to what was actually happening was more helpful than wanting it to be different. In a way the real issue is how you can keep your own heart open in a way that is totally kind to you, and this includes her well-being because you love her. Perhaps you can find a way to have someone else watch her for a while on days when she doesn't nap so that you get the time and space that you need. I do think it's normal for young children not to want to sleep alone and that presents a real challenge in our current nuclear family situations. Much love to you!

  32. Boston Mama says:

    I've always had a similar philosophy and a close relationship with my kids but now I have a 15 year old who is engaging in some risky behaviors. And out of fear and concern. I am finding myself getting very controlling and harsh, which I don't think is best or helpful for either of us. He's very independent and wants to make his own choices (and is making them anyways whether I like it or not, and no matter how much I try to control it.) So I'm wondering what your advice is to someone in my situation.

    A little more info – he is very smart, nice, polite, funny, interesting. But he is not engaged at school and is doing poorly, not doing homework, sometimes going in late or skipping classes. He's also dabbling in marijuana use and insists this is ok. He has also snuck out of the house in the middle of the night. I have tried consequences as well as heart to heart conversations but neither have helped.

    • KristinSLuce says:

      This is a big conversation and depends a lot on the specifics. However, in brief, I think you are nailing it when you say that trying to control him isn't helping or working. The truth is that, as I say in the article, there isn't much you can do in terms of controlling outcome

      I am curious what might happen if you let him know that you love him and are concerned for him and also that you aren't going to do anything to change him or stop him. What if you told him that he doesn't have to sneak out of the house anymore because you won't stop him, punish him or lecture him. Then you could ask him (now or later, once he realizes that you are serious) if he would leave a note or call you to let you know he's ok simply because you worry and can't sleep when you're not sure. Ask him, genuinely, how you can support him. Ask him if he thinks he's ok, or if he is concerned about himself. Basically the idea here would be to take responsibility for your own worry rather than putting it on him.

      This approach is about reestablishing relationship and recognizing that you can't control him. He is moving away into his own life now and he may need for that to be overtly recognized and respected.

      That said, if I was worried about my child using drugs I wouldn't give her money. It wouldn't be as a punishment or control, but more simple and honest: "I know that for you marijuana feels safe, and to me it doesn't. I'm not going to give you money because I don't want to help with anything that I think might hurt you. If you find a way to smoke some anyway that's fine. You don't have to hide it from me and I won't punish or lecture you."

      Those are just some of my own ideas not knowing your situation well. For some people it might not be in their integrity to have your child in your house if he's using drugs. In that case, you could be very loving and honest, "I respect your choices for yourself and for me it's not ok to have drugs in the house or anyone in the house who is on drugs. If you are going to be here high then we'll find another place for you to stay. What are your thoughts?"

      Finally, I would say that the most important part is working with your own fear. Once that has clarified it will be much easier to stay connected to your son and to stay honest with yourself — which could look a lot of different ways. You will be able to support him and love him more honestly and he will feel that. That is the work that I specialize in and I imagine you can find others as well. If you want to go further, check out my website at <a href="” target=”_blank”>

  33. jennifer says:

    Great article , but what is with talking on cell phone while driving ? Then pulling over to congratulate your kids on behaving so well. Bluetooth?

  34. Justin says:

    Thanks for this Kristin. You’ve put words to what is also my style and it works beautifully. Cheers –

  35. Sienna says:

    I've parented very much the same way. I have 16 and 13 year old sons and a 2 yr old daughter. Part of my philosophy is that their lives journeys really belong to them not me. I'm here to guide them. I do not own them. Bless you for daring to parent against the current 🙂

  36. Bill L says:

    Wait a minute!! You take a cell phone call while driving with kids in the car? Then you pull over, put it in park, and congratulate yourself for getting a new client?

    That’s messed up.

  37. Nina says:

    I loved your article, it touched me so far.
    Now you're saying it indeed my girls also are very cooperative when I ask them sincerely but I never reflected on this deeply.
    I have to tell it touches me far beyond as I am a muslim and your story reminds me the one of the Prophet of Islam Muhammad and it gets me to tears.
    One day as they were sitting on the ground in circle (as people used to do by the past) a man came and offered them some milk. The prophet drank the milk first and wanted to share the milk starting from the right. On his right was a child. To show respect to eldest, the Prophet looked at him and asked him would you mind if I give the milk to adult next to you first?
    The child said "no I want pass my turn" (seeking to have the honor to drink after the Prophet). And the Prophet gave him the milk without any remark respecting his choice treating him like a whole human being.
    This story always surprised me of the Prophet's respect to children.
    Thank you!

  38. Robin says:

    I have raised three children to adulthood in this way. My youngest is eager to return home on her breaks from school and has mentioned that some of her school mates actually couldn't wait to get out of their house and go away to college to be away from their parents. When my son was a teenager, he observed me having a bad day and said to me "you look like you need a hug." I don't know how I knew to do this, it was instinctual. I think that may be the problem with children today, no one trusts them and when they are on summer break, all heck breaks loose because no one is watching, and controlling, them.

  39. freedom188 says:

    I loved this! This article encapsulates the approach I share in my book Parenting With Heart & Soul. I love these descriptions of it in action, so I can sneak peek into my future. Thank you.

  40. Katie says:

    YES. I also find I fall back on the way I was raised (or not raised) when I am stressed and/or triggered, but this is such a basic concept. It is one of the hardest to explain because those who are stuck in cultural beliefs about children do not understand why we don't FORCE our kids to hug their extended relatives, etc. I find when I am around people who are not like-minded, I need a break to be around those who ARE like-minded. My children and I enjoy each other a LOT more when we are treating each other with respect.

  41. David Bickford says:

    It doesn't matter how enlightened your approach to parenting is if you're talking on the phone while driving. Even with a handsfree headset, a phone conversation is a serious source of distraction at a time when concentration is needed. I'm disappointed that someone who practices meditation apparently doesn't apply the idea of mindfulness to her own driving and sees nothing wrong with a practice that endangers herself, her children, and everyone else on the road.

    • KristinSLuce says:

      I agree with you. The irony is that I actually did pull over to take the call, and the way I phrased it in the article was (poor) literary license. No need to be disappointed, and the feedback is welcome!

  42. annie says:

    Thanks for this clarification. I had the same question as this commenter. My child is only 13 months, so I'm at the beginning of it all. I think when you say above that when you began the experiment, there would be "absolutely no consequences," but there actually are consequences, they're just not doled out in a threatening manner by you. As in the tree example above – you needed help cleaning before going to buy a Christmas tree. Your daughters helped, but not enough to finish everything and so the consequence was that they were not able to pick out a tree that day. It seems to me the difference is that you didn't hold this over their heads as a threat, just as a statement of fact. "I need the house to be clean before we get a tree, will you help me?" They helped some, but not enough and I imagine them asking to go buy the tree and you saying "I'm sorry, I'm still cleaning the house so we can't go today" or something of that nature. And so your children are not entitled because they DO understand that doing or not doing something WILL have consequences. Is that right? I don't want to put words in your mouth and I really want to understand how this works!

    • KristinSLuce says:

      Yes, what you suggest is pretty much exactly what I would do. The difference is that there is no judgment or "punishment" in it, even subtly. If we had 3 feet of snow fall and needed to clear the driveway before we could get out, it would be even more obvious. We can't move the car until the snow is shoveled. If I am the only one doing it, it takes longer, and then I may not have the energy to do the trip. No blame, just removing snow and taking good care of myself. So "consequence" in this way is not a euphemism for "punishment." I don't need to teach them anything about snow or cars or consequences. I just need to shovel snow and take breaks as I need them, and they help or they don't. What tends to emerge are two things: they look out for their own best interests (if they shovel, we go sooner), as well as the natural, human connection and compassion of helping others. And that's not a requirement. And yes, it tends to produce the opposite of entitlement because I am not marrying myself at all. Thank you for your comments!

  43. vballante says:

    Great article! It's very true and real. I want to really work on this with my kids. I do think it's slightly different for boys. Any suggestions on how to handle the very mysterious male psyche??

    • KristinSLuce says:

      I think the trick is to let go of any particular outcome. With boys, I have seen there is often much more energy and physicality. What I love about boys is that they often don't take gently to being corralled. This puts us squarely on our own edge of being honest in word and in action, and without judgment. The principles are the same though: love them, leave them alone, be honest in what you can and can't give without attachment to outcome–meaning without trying to get them to do something or be a certain way. It's a big topic I would love to explore more!

  44. Marc O. says:

    Wonderful article and comments! Thank you. I look forward to reading the book.

  45. TracyYvon says:

    I started asking questions today with no expectations: magic!

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